Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

To Brave the Hope

The blue tag swirled down the streetlight pole like a sloppy signature, which was exactly what it was. I hadn't noticed it before and had no idea how long it had been there. Knowing me and my sometimes marginal peripheral awareness, it could've been there for weeks, even though the streetlight was directly in front of our house.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was delivering a Kidpower workshop that morning and our daughters and me had just finished a packed morning of soccer and the grocery store.

After unloading the groceries, I filled a bucket with soap and water and a new scrubbing sponge intent on cleaning up the graffiti. Before I went outside with the bucket, I told my daughters what I was going to do.

"Girls, I'm going to clean off the poll out front, okay?"

"Why?" Beatrice asked.

"Because someone painted on it when they shouldn't have. It's called graffiti and I want to clean it up."

"Okay," Beatrice said. Bryce was too engrossed in her iPad to comment.

"That's very helpful of you, Dad," Bea added.

I smiled. "Why, thank you, Bea."

"You're welcome."

It was a glorious day outside, a warm fall day bathed in cerulean blue sky. Heavenly even, like a day from the Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep comedy Defending Your Life, where everyday was 72 degrees, there were all-you-can-eat buffets where you'd never gain weight, bowling alleys, comedy clubs and more. When in fact, this was purgatory in the movie, the weigh station to heaven and hell.

I conjured the silly 1991 rom-com because the world had become more violently absurd than ever. A bizzaro pre-apocalyptic world where the super heroes aren't so super anymore, much less heroes. A disrespectful world where others deface and tag in the name of marking property that'll never be theirs. A wag-the-dog world teetering on the edge of civil wars where fake news is real and real news is fake. A world full of splintered agendas and raging biases where our leaders compromise principles and laws and bastardized religion for partisan short-term gains. A world where the worst inside all of us is celebrated because an angry few feel they've been legitimately oppressed as others had truly been for hundreds of years. And a world where violence against women and sexual assault are compartmentalized, rationalized and diminished in the face of overwhelming bittersweet awareness.

All this swirled inside me while I scrubbed the blue tag off the pole. Except that it wasn't coming off. At all. I even scraped at it with a putty knife and nothing. I started sweating and decided to try window cleaner on it. Still nothing. We didn't have anything else stronger, so I stood helpless starting at the pole. A neighbor drove by and then stopped in front of our driveway.

She asked what was going on and I explained the graffiti and that I couldn't get it off. She said they had some stronger "goo off" stuff back at the house and that I could use it. A few minutes after she drove away, another two neighbors were walking back from the nearby farmer's market. They too had some stronger "goo off" stuff and went to retrieve it.

Once I applied the stuff with steel wool the blue tag came right off. Like magic. After that I helped our neighbor remove more graffiti from a one-way sign on our street.

When the Mama got home from her workshop, I told her about the blue tag I found and that I cleaned it off.

"Thank you, Sweetie," she said.

"I only just noticed it this morning. How long had it been there on the pole?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"For at least I week. I was going to tell you about it."

A week, I thought. It could've been months for all I knew.

Sigh.

I know there will be more graffiti tags on streetlight poles and one-way signs. And I know we'll always be able to clean them off. But it's gotten harder to take the high road beyond the graffiti when the low road is so riddled with trolls and power predators these days.

When I shared that sentiment online a few days before the blue tag cleaning, a friend of mine answered:

Stay positive Kevin, people love that about you.

I smiled as I thought about it. I am positive most of the time. I am hopeful most of the time. But I'm even more thankful for the fact that there are many of us who are willing to take the high road, to remain positive, to make a difference regardless of our differences by taking action for the better however incremental or big, to ultimately prevent further social injustice and the literal moral unmooring of America.

I'm thankful for my wife who inspires me daily to brave the hope and put it in action, and my daughters as well who fuel my hope for the future. And I'm thankful for family and friends who inspire the same, that there is light and love and so many more of us willing to embody them both.

Right on and amen. Bring on that high road, please. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Most of Us Together

Number 9 ran off the field at halftime and yelled at me.

"Dad, why didn't you take me out earlier! I'm really tired!"

She panted after every other word. Her face glowed red. Her hair was wet and matted to her forehead and the sides of her face.

"Great job, Beatrice," I said. "You are being aggressive and going after that ball!"

"But I'm tired!"

I patted her on the back. "I know, so take a break and drink some water. You're doing awesome."

"Thank you," she said. Then she was past it, eating fresh strawberries, the last halftime snack of our final game.

In the next moment, one of the team parents approached me. Her daughter was sick and had already thrown up twice on our sidelines. But that's not why she came over to talk.

"You know, you should tell the girls they can help our goalie and not just stand around and watch," she said.

I took a "zen" beat inside my head before I spoke. This wasn't an unreasonable request; she had the best intentions. In fact, the parents of all our players were really good all season, one of whom was my assistant coach, another one who also helped, and a few others who had soccer experience and made great suggestions throughout the season.

But I took a "zen" beat because it had been a long season. Sure, we weren't supposed to keep score, this is recreational soccer, and I had stopped keeping score early on when we lost every game by a significant number of goals. Game after game. Week after week. For someone who grew up highly competitive -- me -- and coming off of a winning season last year, it had been a long season this year. And yet I tried to keep my head up, because even with this last game, there was always a next time.

I put my hand on the parent's shoulder. "I understand. I do. I just want them to score for the first time in this final game. Or just pass consistently to one another. Or just dribble and drive the ball down the field. Or just kick the ball straight and farther than five yards. You know, those little things."

She smiled at my mild sarcasm and attempt at humor. "I know, but they really could help their goalie out so they don't keep getting the score run up on them."

Sigh.

"Got it. Thank you," I said.

"Coach, you just stepped in the throw up," one of the other players pointed out to me.

I looked down.

Sigh.

Maybe it was me. My job as coach for a U10 recreational team was to help them learn some soccer skills and some teamwork, regardless of having boys or girls, and in this case, it was my third year coaching our oldest daughter and an all-girl teams. But from the first practice to this very last game, it felt like some of the girls just didn't really want to play soccer. That they only wanted to goof off with each other instead. That's okay. They're kids.

Maybe it was me. There had been a lot of work travel this season for me and I missed some practices and one of our games. And then there was my hospitalization and disruptive infection that scared the bejesus out of me and the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife).

Maybe it was me, because as the season went on, it got tougher to inspire myself, much less the girls. Are they getting any of this? I thought again and again. After each game the Mama countered my fuming by encouraging me to keep encouraging them. I had the same conversations with my coaches and they encouraged me to stay positive and stay the course.

"They are playing better today, Coach," my assistant coach said.

"Yep," I said. "They are."

That's the thing -- positive improvements aren't always evident -- they are more subtle than that, like the incremental slow-growth of a coral reef. One minute there's nothing but barren shallows, and then 10,000 minutes later there's a layer of lovely colors that are alive and well.

And in the final game, there were all the lovely colors:


  • Better dribbling for some.
  • Better change-of-direction and ball control for others.
  • Better passing to teammates for others.
  • Better aggressive going after the ball for many of them.
  • Even better defense helping the goalie keep the ball away from our goal.


And while the number of shots we got at the opponents' goal were again few and far between, there were those who played hard and seemed inspired to do so, had the "fire" as my assistant coach put it, like they really wanted to play well, individually and together, encouraging each other to keep going, even for the few who didn't want to.

Yes, it had been a long season, and besides being her coach and her dad, I was especially proud of our oldest, Beatrice, as she had truly improved over this last season (and the two seasons before this one). She wanted to play, liked to play, went after the ball and got it done. She even wanted to practice kicking the ball around in the backyard, and before this last game asked to play in the winter recreational league. I never thought I'd see that happen.

After the last game we had a team party, and as we were all leaving, one of my other players walked up to me and game me a hug.

"Thank you, Coach," she said.

I hugged her back and said, "No, thank you."

One after another most of the girls thanked me. One even wrote me a nice note. Maybe in the end it wasn't me; it was most of us together. And that should make us all feel like winners.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Be Part of the Solution

One minute I was happily serving drinks, and the next minute I blacked out. And I don’t think the Mickey was meant for me.

Neither of us did. A few years before our oldest Beatrice was born, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I attended a coworker’s Halloween party. Dressed as Han Solo and Princess Leia, we volunteered to help run one of the backyard bars.

We were having a lot of fun chatting it up with dozens of different people dressed in all sorts of great costumes, most of whom we didn’t know. The Mama was a much better barkeep than me since she’d worked in restaurants over the years and did some bartending. She helped me mix the drinks and I mostly stayed with serving beer and wine.

Maybe two hours or so into the party, I felt wasted. Literally shitfaced. And I shouldn’t have been. I’d only had a few glasses of wine.

“Are you okay?” the Mama asked.

Thankfully the crowd had thinned at our bar, because the world spun way too fast for me at that point.

“I feel really drunk,” I said.

“Wow, you're slurring. You haven’t had that much to drink. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t feel good,” I said. Although I probably said, I stone fee goo.

“I have to go to the bathroom now.”

I af to go to da bamoom now.

We went to the bathroom and then went back to bartending. A while later it was time to go and that was when the world became an acrylic swirl of black and yellow light like Van Gogh’s Night Sky. I barely remember the Mama putting me in our car and driving us home. Then I vaguely remember stumbling into our house. She knew something was definitely wrong at that point.

The next morning we reviewed the night. I had a killer headache and there was no way it was just from the wine I drank. After some research online, we agreed that something had been put into my drink, probably what’s known as a rufie, the date-rape drug.

But again, we don’t think it was meant for me. Probably another woman. Whenever it happened, however it happened, and whoever it was intended for, I happened to be the unlucky victim of a drug-induced blackout. Thank God my wife was there to take care of me. Again, most of the party goers were strangers to us, so it could have been anybody.

After telling my coworker about it, she was mortified and said she’d look into it. These people were her and her husband’s friends, and sure enough, she uncovered someone they knew who had tried to drug someone at a previous party, but denied having anything to do with what happened to me. Without proof, there was nothing she could do about it, or we could do about.

What if I was a woman and the intended victim? What would’ve happened to me? Would I have been sexually assaulted? Would it have been someone I knew, or a stranger?

Today I’m an appointed volunteer on the Santa Cruz Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and part of our mission is to partner with local law enforcement and collect data on a variety of CA penal codes to better understand the nature of sexual assaults, occurring within Santa Cruz, and distribute this information to our community. Some of our findings from 2014-2016 of non-juvenile cases to be released soon include:


  • In 40% of the incidences of reported rape or attempted rape, the suspects were acquaintances of the victims.
  • 86% of the victims reporting sexual assault are Santa Cruz City locals.
  • Women between the ages of 18-29 make up 45% of the victims reporting sexual assaults.
  • Suspects were 59% locals, 32% unknown and 9% visitors to the area.
  • Alcohol was involved in 42% of the cases reported between 2014-16.


One of these days our girls will be young adults and may go to parties like this, whether locally or at college or wherever they end up living. Wherever that will be, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Mix in alcohol and powerful sedative drugs and you've got a very dangerous combination for potential victims. We can't be there all the time to protect our girls, but we can educate them to be aware and protect themselves.

The work we do at CPVAW has a broader mission of ending sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the City of Santa Cruz through prevention, programs, and public policy. October has also been domestic violence awareness month, and 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime and an average of 3 women die every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. Growing up, my sister and I witnessed my mother suffer continuous verbal and physical abuse, another reason why I speak up about it. To give voice to those who need help.

Recently on Facebook a friend asked why men don't speak up about the #metoo movement (the sharing on social media by other women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted), and also why so many men stand by and let harassment and sexual assault happen (and anything related to violence against women).

My response was simple:

I have stood by. I have called out. I have harassed. I have been harassed. I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I have been sexually assaulted

My wife and I have two young daughters who we are empowering to be strong and be part of the solution. As parents, we all have an ultimate responsibility to instill in both girls and boys their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, to not react inappropriately and violently, and to encourage all of the above with others. We need to be clear with our children that violence against women and girls, men or boys, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

So let's be part of the solution, today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Just Another Saturday

I just needed to pee when the Mama called to me from downstairs.

"Kevin, where are you? I need to talk to you about something important right now."

Her voice sounded off, odd, like she was uncomfortable about something. There was also an accusatory tone, as if I should be reading her mind to understand whatever the heck was going on as she bounded up the stairs. What did I do? I thought. Wait, nothing. All I knew is that we were getting ready to go to Bryce's soccer game.

"Kevin, where are you?"

"Going to the bathroom!" I called back at her.

That's when I heard a helicopter overhead. Then a plane fly by. Then the helicopter again. Then another plane. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, came into our bathroom where I was.

"There's a fire in Moore Creek down the street. We have to go now."

The "go now" part stung, as if the Mama had wagged her finger in front of me and then poked me hard in the chest. Her very being was all resolve and purpose betrayed only by the fear in her eyes.

"Sweetie, we have to pack some things and go," she said. "Our neighbor said they'll be closing the road soon."

We heard multiple firetrucks and police cars scream by us down the highway. The helicopter and planes flew overhead again. Moore Creek was right at the end of our street, where other friends of ours lived, whose children went to school with our girls. The property behind us lined with eucalyptus trees had ground cover as dry as kindling and most likely ready to go up in flames if the fire reached it. One of the eucalyptus had fallen into a neighbor's house over the last rainy winter, and when we saw the two feet of tree debris all over the ground soaking wet, we knew at some point it would dry out and be quite combustible.

"I have to pee first!" was all I could say to the Mama. Because I did, before I did anything else. Then I could get moving.

She went into our closet and came out with our home safe, full of important family paperwork among other things. It's a heavy little sucker, and yet, it was if she were holding a newborn close to her chest.

"Okay, that's fine," she said. "Then help me get some things together. We have to go before the road closes."

"Wait, have you heard anything on the news? Do we have to evacuate? What do we know? Let's not overreact if we don't know exactly what's happening."

"I only know that we have to go," she said.

That was enough for me.

Ten minutes earlier it was just another Saturday. Soccer games and errands and family time in between. Now there was a fire down the street, how serious we didn't really know yet. We do get local Nixle alerts, but there had been none yet notifying us of anything including whether or not we should evacuate. And considering all the wildfires north of us in Santa Rosa, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes, we weren't going to take any chances.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? We have disaster plans, at least frameworks to work within in order to get out, to meet up elsewhere if separated. Extra food and water in the garage if trapped at home. And so on. I carried the safe downstairs.

"Sweetie, get the suitcase for me," the Mama called down.

"I will. I'm going to pack the computers and devices for us."

"Yes, please do."

The girls had already been calmly tasked to pack a few things they wanted to bring. They were stuffed animals and a few toys, of course.

"Is our house going to burn down?" Beatrice asked.

"No, honey, but we need to be safe and go somewhere else for a while just until the firefighters put the fire out."

While the Mama kept packing I started to load our car. The Cal Fire helicopter and planes kept circling and dropping water on the mountainside and I could see the smoke for the first time, although I couldn't smell it. More first responders raced down the highway with sirens blaring. Many people were outside including our neighbors, some of whom walked down the street to investigate further. A Nixle alert did appear on my phone, but only to say the highway was now closed due to a fire and to stay tuned for more updates. Nothing about evacuation.

After getting everything into the car except the suitcase, our neighbor called us and said she and her son were at the end of the street and the firefighters had just put the fire out. But another Nixle alert told me that the highway and part of our road would be closed for awhile. At least we were safe for now and the firefighters had quickly contained the blaze.

"What about the guinea pigs?" the girls had asked.

Prior to knowing the fire was more or less out, the question of what to do with the guinea pigs came up. Their cage would fit in the car, that wasn't a problem, but if we ended up stranded somewhere, there was no way we could keep them in the car. It would be too hot. And the eventual smell of course. Maybe we could drop them off at a friend's house. Or maybe we just couldn't take them with us. Thankfully we didn't have to end up making that call.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? Your family, maybe your pets if realistic, and a few critical items like important paperwork, medicines if any, computers and/or devices, some clothes and toiletries. Everything else has to stay -- and you have to go. Now. While we packed our stuff I remembered looking at all our family pictures hanging on the wall and thinking I have all of these digitally, so we can print them again. 

We did end up going on with our day as planned, but it felt off, odd, like the tone of the Mama's voice when she first called to me upstairs only 30 minutes earlier. Should we have stayed and waited to ensure things didn't flare up again and that we'd really have to evacuate? Once we were away from our house without the stuff we packed, there would be no way to get back if things went south, and everything could've been lost.

But it wasn't. It was just another Saturday. God bless those who have lost.

The next morning the Mama said to me, "You know what?"

"What?"

"We forgot the key to the safe when we packed everything up."

"Again with the keys," I said.

The Mama laughed. "But it's not like we couldn't have broken into it. It's not that great of a safe."

"That's comforting," I said.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Of All The Things

“Always take a big bite
It's such a gorgeous sight
To see you in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It's Friday
I'm in love…”

— The Cure, Friday I’m in Love


The song rocked sweetly in my head as it played overhead while we walked back to our hotel after some shopping. It’s Friday, I’m in love. A week of successful work travel behind me, and still on the mend, and now my wife was with me in Las Vegas for the weekend to celebrate our 20-year anniversary of the day we met on the beach (14 years of marriage and the same date). The song was one of many special ones to us we had put on our wedding soundtrack to celebrate Friday date nights.

We walked hand in hand, and then my wife, who I affectionately call the Mama, said, “When we get back to the room we’ll call the girls.”

"Yes, absolutely."

One of our dear friends was watching our girls for the weekend at our house, and no sooner than the Mama had finished saying “the girls,” we were both texted.

I pulled my phone out to read the text. It was from that dear friend watching our girls. It was right after school, so she had picked them up and was bringing them back to our house.

Hi, out your house. Didn’t find a house key in either backpack.

“Sweetie, did you give Laura our key?”

No response. She was reading the text, too.

“Sweetie?”

“No, no I didn’t. I totally forgot.”

“Are you serious?”

The usual edge I get when things go south slashed away at the air between us.

“I can’t remember everything, Kevin. There was so much to do before I left. I just forget to give her the keys.”

I took a beat and a breath, still mentally slashing away in the air.

“There’s a spare in the garage,” the Mama went on.

“No, there’s not," I said.

“Yes, the one by the furnace.”

I shook my head. “That was the one to get into the office and guest room through the garage, but not for the house."

The Mama asked Laura to look for the key, but it wasn’t there.

She then looked at me and asked, “Wasn’t there a key in the office, too?”

“No, we took both keys out years out. There’s nothing out there anymore.”

“Then we’ll have to call a locksmith," she said without missing a beat.

More slashing at the air. “Are you kidding me? That could be hundreds of dollars. No way!”

“Then how are they going to get in?”

“Can they spend the night at Laura’s and we’ll FedEx our key now? Every casino with a conference center has a FedEx office.”

The Mama thought about it.

“Maybe.”

She kept talking with our friend Laura on the phone and I just kept on stewing. I knew my wife had a lot going on with work and the girls, taking care of me before I traveled, and the fact that I’d already been gone for nearly a week.

But of all the things, the house key? Ugh. I mean, you can forget toothpaste and underwear, but the house key for your babysitter? It wasn’t exactly like the movie Home Alone, but I still failed to reign in my discontent.

“I get forgetting other things to do before you left, but the house key? How could you forget to give the house key to Laura?”

That did it. Too much push.

“Sweetie, stop it. It’s done. I forgot, okay? Nothing we can do about that now!"

We both sent quiet. Then she spoke up again.

"What about our neighbor? Could he get in and open the door for her and the girls?”

I always love how she moves on immediately identifying solutions. I still have to extinguish the stewing before I move.

“Is the upstairs bedroom window still open?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s open.”

“Then most likely, yes, he can get in.”

Our neighbor had been up on his own two-story roof more than once, so I knew he could he could get to our window that way as well. We've never had to do it, and we've never tried, because the Mama has always said the second story is off limits anyway due to, you know, gravity. I called our neighbor and he confirmed he could do it, just not until later in the day. After that, we both felt better knowing that at least they’d get into the house eventually.

“If they can’t get in, we’re going to have to call a locksmith then," the Mama said as we continued to walk back to our hotel.

Ugh.

"Yes, I know," I said. "Love you."

"Love you."

And then I added. "We're going to make Laura a friggin' key, Sweetie."

"Yes, I know."

The Mama stopped and checked her phone. "Wait a minute, they're in."

I checked my phone at the same time reading the same new text.

Mike is climbing through window now. Do we need to worry about an alarm?

Mike is Laura's husband and obviously was now climbing in our upstairs bedroom window.

We are in the house now.

Both the Mama and I smiled. I texted Laura back.

Wow. We’re going to make you a key.

We thanked Laura and Mike profusely. After we got back to our hotel room and talked with the girls on FaceTime, our anniversary weekend was back on track. Of all the things I love about the Mama, her ability to pivot and adapt to nearly every situation, big or small, positive or negative, and then think rationally about solutions, is probably the most inspiring thing of all (I remember the fire on Maui and many other examples). That and the way she cares for our girls and for me of late with my recent health issues again solidified for me why she's the woman of my dreams and why we're celebrating 20 years.

Twenty years of living fully and mostly well, loving comfortably within our lives. Amen to our #BhivePower.


"For 20 years now you’ve been my inspirational muse,
My stunning ache, and the us of which we choose.
We want to believe our two halves will always grow
Intact as two wholes that the end of days will show,
And until then we will live fully and mostly well,
Loving comfortably within our lives, our endless tell."

—Excerpt from a poem I wrote for the Mama on our anniversary












Sunday, October 8, 2017

To Have All the Time I Need

“When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain you would not understand
This is not how I am…”

— Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb


It was hard enough just to get through the workday, being depressed on my birthday. All I could do was selfishly think about me, of what was known and not known, and what I may miss if things got worse. Even with family and friends telling me happy birthday over and over, and asking me how I felt over and over, I didn't feel any better.

I just didn't hear a lot of it. Couldn't hear a lot of it. Didn't want to hear a lot of it. Not even the familiar daily banter from our children sharing what had happened at school that day. Then my wife, the Mama as I affectionately call her, started asking me questions about how I was feeling and what I should do next with the doctors, and what her and my sister talked about, and don't forget this, and don't forget that --

"Stop treating me like a child!"

That's the way it is with me. The emotional paralysis followed by the simmer to slow boil to trashing the familial stove with my angry froth. The Mama kept calm and waited for my next move.

"You make it sound like I don't know what I'm doing and that I underserve myself with the doctors, that I don't want to be well," I said.

"Sweetie, I just care about you and want to do everything we can to make sure you get better and it doesn't happen again. I'm not trying to treat you like a child."

"Well, that's what it sounds like when I talk to both you and my sister. I just want to be well, Amy. I just want to be well and it sucks that this happened and keeps happening. I take care of myself."

"I know, Sweetie. I'm sorry. I love you. I want you to be well, too."

"I just want to be well. And I'm worried when I go back in tomorrow, they're going to want me to stay in the hospital again.

"I know, I know. I love you."

All this within earshot of our two girls, already worried enough for about as much as a seven and nine-year-old can and will worry about circumstances such as these.

"Are you and Dad fighting?" Beatrice asked the Mama.

"No, honey. Just talking about Daddy getting better, that's all."

"Dad, it's your birthday," said Beatrice.

"Happy Birthday!" chimed in Bryce.

Yes, yes it is. It's my friggin' birthday and I'm alive, Sweetie. Amen.

Less than two weeks prior to this, I had a fever and painful lumps where there shouldn't have been any -- let's just say, where the sun don't shine. Over three days they seemed appear, although who knows how long they'd been brewing (there were other possibly connected precipitating factors since June). All I knew is that I had to go see my doctor, because within a week after that, I'd be traveling extensively again for work. Or not. That remained to be seen at that point.

But after visiting my primary care physician, she immediately urged me to go to urgent care. And then from urgent care, they recommended I go to the emergency room immediately. Because of being with Kaiser, which is still expanding in Santa Cruz, that meant we had to go to the hospital in San Jose. The Mama asked one of our dear friends to watch the girls overnight, not knowing what would happen next.

The Mama drove me to the hospital, but on the way first we stopped by to see the girls where our friend had taken them to dinner. That was painfully awkward, because our oldest knew something was up more than us telling her that "Daddy just needed to get some tests." Her stress was obvious, although my youngest seemed more oblivious, something I was thankful for. We gave them big hugs and were on our way.

Once at the hospital and the tests run and examinations complete, the consensus was that it was an infected abscess that had to be surgically treated, although they had no idea about the other areas at that point. Spending the night in hospital was inevitable at this point and they did try to reassure me that this happens to people of all ages. During recovery I missed my girls and worked, of course, and by midday the next day, I was discharged.

The whole time before and after the surgery, the only thing the Mama and I could think about was when my sister had gotten so sick the year before. Within three days she'd gone septic and had to be sedated for nearly two weeks, with a dismal prognosis overall. The fear of multiple infections, especially getting something more virulent while in the hospital, scared us to no end. Cancer never came up, and besides a high white blood cell count, was never considered (at least as of now).

All I could think about was my family first -- what would we have to do if things went south on us. That's a dark rabbit hole no one wants to go down.

And then there was everything else I'd been working on to prep for my nonprofit Talent Board's big one day symposium and awards gala in Nashville, less than a week away at that point. So much blood, sweat and tears that I wanted to see come to fruition, to celebrate with my team, our volunteers, sponsors and research participants.

However, the surgeons felt like I'd be okay if I kept the areas clean and if my wife helped with the dressing and the packing before I left, and then come back in one week to check in (after my event in Nashville). Now, there's no reason to go into detail here, but I have one amazing and loving wife for her to care for me the way she has. God bless that beautiful woman. We're now only one week from our 20-year anniversary from that one day on the beach.

Which brings me back to my birthday and just wanting to be well. To have decades more to spend with my wife and my children. Unfortunately there's another hot spot on my body being monitored and checked for other infections, but I do feel better overall. Antibiotics consumed and no fever since surgery and the other areas have nearly healed all the way.

Yes, it was hard enough just to get through the workday, being depressed on my birthday. But I'm alive and mostly well and live fully and comfortably within that life. Every single day. A life that's inextricably linked to my dear daughters and my amazing wife, and so many other family and friends who care enough to tell me happy birthday over and over, and that hope I feel better soon.

Because I just want to be well, to be there for them. To have all the time I need, for them and for me. I will not imagine otherwise. This is not how I am.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

More Than the F-Bombs

I knew the path I headed down had escalated beyond the reality of it. Knew it before I even opened my big mouth. Knew it when my understanding of what was really happening still stayed light years from where it could and would be some day. Knew that my volcanic reaction was more about me than them.

"I just don't want them watching those anymore!"

What had happened was this: a series of YouTube videos all about selling toys to kids unapologetically and incessantly called CookieSwirlC had invaded the lives of our children. These videos make our skin crawl -- the high-pitched bubbly pitching of kid stuff in the form of cute little videos with no educational or "nutritional" value whatsoever. Both the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I soon laid down the law of only 1-2 of them per day.

Then that led to the discovery of other innocuous YouTube videos on our TV thanks to our overpriced and comprehensive cable provider. For example, a series of silly guinea pig videos made by people with way too much time on their hands. Way too much. And those led to one in particular where the adult theme cranked the volume to 10 with f-bomb after f-bomb after f-bomb.

I didn't hear it myself, but the Mama told me it happened, and that thankfully the girls didn't really pay attention to the words and didn't repeat them either (yet). And that the Mama would turn that channel off pronto.

But I was already on the path of black and white -- my way or the highway.

"I just don't want them watching those anymore!"

When my emotions finally caught up with my rational thought, I articulated that I was scared to death of what was coming. That the girls were getting older and at some point their childhood would become an archeological dig in boxes and bags of old artwork and schoolwork, and in computer files of photos and videos.

I was scared to death of them seeing what we all eventually see: the sometimes shitty world that can hurt us and make us feel less than human. The Mama got, just wishing I would've said that in the first place.

Because more than the f-bombs, this was all about the great big world wide interwebs being accessible to our children and introducing them to the initially silly but eventually creepy subhuman. Yes, we set boundaries for them. Yes, we set limitations on how many and when, the same parameters with watching TV, playing kid games on their devices, etc. Yes, we also teach our girls to make their own wise choices, something that for all of us is a lifelong commitment. Which of course isn't easy considering the underdeveloped frontal lobes of our seven- and nine-year-old girls, still much more advanced than their boy counterparts.

We didn't have this kind of media access growing up, and yet that doesn't even matter, because today our kids do. So we keep doing what we're supposed to do as parents -- monitoring and filtering and limiting and explaining and empowering and turning off when we need to. YouTube for kids was a helpful segue. And yes, we're still the unapologetic parents who integrate it all into some semblance of family learning time.

However, can someone tell us how we block the CookieSwirlC videos please? No, seriously. Block them today. Please.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Because There's Always a Next Time

“Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.”

John Madden, Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (1969-78)



After the first game, one of the parents said, "Headline reads: The Tigers get pounced!"

I laughed. I knew he was kidding. Kind of. But it still stung because I was the head coach. The leader of a recreational all girls soccer team. The one who looks forward to teaching soccer fundamentals and teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level the girls are at. That's why everyone always gets a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season.

And it's always a big plus to have really involved parents that feel the same way, even after the other team runs up the score on you.

"No, the headline reads: The Tigers play hard and have fun!" I replied.

He laughed. Kind of. Maybe a little uncomfortably. After he walked away I realized that not one girl on our team asked me what the final score was. I wasn't sure what that meant, if anything, but the year before half the team asked me each and every game.

But we won many games the year before. Most of them actually. We're really not supposed to keep score, nor keep a tally of wins and losses, but I still do. I'm humble about it, though. But I just can't help it either way -- I grew up playing more competitively even at an early age. The same age as the girls on our U10 soccer team, eight and nine year olds. There were more girls who'd played multiple years prior to last season, with a few going on to play competitively.

This year our team is full of raw talent, with fewer of them having played prior to this year. And that's okay. That's what I wanted. Why I wanted to coach starting three years ago. Why I now have two other amazing coaches this year to help me. I had only played soccer in junior high school decades earlier, but I knew that no matter what sport our girls wanted to play, if they wanted to play, and if it was something I could actually coach. It was stretch for me considering my sport was American football, not the rest of the world's fĂștbol.

I'm all about the stretch assignment, however. All about pushing myself to learn something new while helping to instill new skills in others including personal leadership and teamwork. It my sound a little campy to the cynics out there, but it's true. And because our oldest Beatrice wanted to give soccer a go a few years ago -- and still wants to play three years later -- that's a win in my book.

Our youngest Bryce is now playing for the first year. I'm not coaching her team, because I can't do both, and I can't always watch her if my games are going on at the same time, but I'm so excited to watch her own raw talent get refined as well.

Like our oldest, who doesn't have the same affinity to sports like soccer as our youngest does, but who also after three years of a big heart and who works hard. And it's certainly paid off -- watching her dribble and drive and defend and shoot like it's nobody's business makes us really proud. Makes me really proud being her coach and her father.

Because that's what it's all about for me -- for every single girl on the team. Which is why it was hard to hear in the last game the following:

"Coach, can you tell the team not to give me a hard time? It was just a mistake I made. Everybody makes them."

This coming from another play who had accidentally kicked the ball into our own goal, thinking she was kicking it to our goalie.

So during halftime, I reminded the team to cheer each other on when we do something good and to support each other when we don't. That we'll get it the next time. Because we'll always make mistakes and because there's always a next time.

Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.


That's right. There's always a next time, which if one of the hardest lessons we have to continuously learn, both as kids and adults. We may lose every single game, but in the end the headline will always read:

"Tigers are winners!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Normal Not-End-of-Days Talk

“Here we come out of the cradle

Endlessly rocking

Endlessly rocking…”

—Rush, Out of the Cradle

It happened and she's never looked back. The seismic shift was clear, concise and immediate; I'm not sure exactly when, but sometime before the start of school this year for sure. And now she says it over and over to seemingly affirm her newfound maturity, the painfully necessary grounding of the years to come. Sure, we knew it would happen someday, a transition that most parents experience in late childhood into tween-land.

I stewed on that during the final dog days of August into early September when temperatures spiked to 107 degrees in Santa Cruz that included a humidity we don't usually get. Granted, we didn't have the Los Angeles fires burning out of control, or the Cascades fires. Nor did we have the horrific realities of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, and now Hurricane Irma hitting Florida, forcing millions to evacuate after wiping out the Caribbean. And we didn't have the devastating earthquake in Mexico either.

Since Labor Day our weather has returned somewhat to normal as have our lives with school starting and soccer games for both girls this year. Even with having friends in some of the affected areas mentioned above, and after making Red Cross donations and sending protective thoughts and prayers their way -- when you're not in it, you feel far removed from it. And your only reality is in the moment of driving your oldest daughter to her team's first soccer game you're coaching again.

"Dad," she said from the back seat. "What happened with the hurricane?"

There it was again: Dad. Not Daddy anymore. I couldn't remember the last time she called me Daddy, and yet it had to have only been a few weeks earlier when the seismic shift occurred.

"Dad?"

"What Sweetie?"

"What happened with the hurricane?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is it hitting land yet?"

Prior to leaving for the game, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was watching Good Morning America on her iPad in the kitchen while fixing the girls breakfast, and the Hurricane Irma story was front and center.

"It hasn't made it to Florida yet, but it did wipe out a lot of Caribbean islands. It's one of the most powerful hurricanes ever."

Bea thought about this for a moment. And then, "Will people die?"

It's not that we don't talk with the girls about current events and the realities of life, but these kinds of questions were new for our eldest.

"There will be people who get hurt and some may die, yes."

"How big is it?"

"What? The hurricane?"

"Yes."

"Really big. It's going to drop a ton of water and the winds are really --"

"I know what a hurricane is," she interrupted.

"Okay, do you know how fast the winds are going?"

"No."

I tried to think of how to explain the speed. "Think about this: you know when we're driving on the highway we're going pretty fast -- around 65 miles per hour. Now, imagine going two to three times that fast. That wind will destroy a lot of stuff in its path. It would totally sweep you and me away if we were on the beach when it hit."

"Wow," she said. I wasn't sure she got it, though.

We kept talking about hurricanes and then tornados for a few minutes and I explained that we don't get those kinds of storms where we live, but we do get earthquakes. I told Bea about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, what I experienced living in San Jose then, and what had happened to downtown Santa Cruz, about two miles from where we live now.

"So they rebuilt downtown?" she asked.

"Yes, they had to, because most of the buildings fell apart. All of Pacific Avenue."

"Will it happen again?"

I could hear the distress in her voice. She's a "feeler" like me, so I wasn't surprised that she got a little rattled. I felt bad.

"It could, but we don't know exactly when or even if it will happen again anytime soon," I said, neglecting to talk about the Mexico earthquake that had happened a few days earlier.

"What would happen to our house? Would it fall down? Where would we go?"

Her distress escalated a bit and thankfully we were just about to the the park where we played our soccer games. It probably didn't help that I had told her of all the people that had to leave their homes in Florida due to the hurricane.

The total trip to our soccer game was only a 10-minute drive, but it felt much longer, years longer, mostly because of this new level of conversation I had with my daughter.

"Dad, I'm a little nervous to play today."

"You'll do fine. Let's go have some fun."

Ah, back to the normal not-end-of-days talk. And while far from apocalyptic, going from Daddy to Dad has rocked my world a little. At least I've got a couple more years of Daddy with Bryce.

The week before the Mama and I watched our children play in the living room, still kids for now, while 1970's soft rock played in the background, and I remembered the fun times for me growing up and playing in the living room. The simpler times. The nothing else in the world matters times. And now we're both living it again watching them grow up. Mercy me, it was just seven years ago when Bea rocked a newborn Bryce laying in a car seat on our living room floor.

Endlessly rocking indeed.






Sunday, August 27, 2017

One of the 99

“Just between the ice ages anyway 
I want to talk, but I haven't got too much to say 
I don't mean to be so Nihilistic 
Forgive me if I seem to be too realistic…”

—Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache

I thought we were going to talk about something else. Something related to the same organization we volunteered for. Maybe about a project we were working on together. It was Friday and I was looking forward to the weekend.

But I didn't expect this -- he brought up being out of work since early summer.

"I've applied for nearly 200 jobs at least, many of them management jobs," he told me. "Mostly direct applies on LinkedIn, although I've tried to network into as many as I can."

I empathized and listened.

"And you know what? I keep being told I'm just not qualified for the management roles. I know it's been years since I managed a team, but still. My friends keep telling me that the companies only care if it was within the last year. Period. No exceptions."

"I hear you," I said. "That's the reality, too."

"I know, but you know what? Even the other roles I've applied to I'm really qualified for, but for most of those I'm not even hearing anything after my initial application. Nothing. Nada. Zilch," he said.

"It's been months," he added after a brief pause.

I tried to make the case that more companies are working hard on improving what it's like to go through their recruiting and hiring process. He knew I run a global nonprofit research organization called Talent Board that's all about elevating and promoting a quality candidate experience, working with hundreds of employers and analyzing hundreds of thousands of candidate responses via the survey research we conduct, most of whom didn't get the job at the end of the day, which is the reality for all of us.

I explained that, for companies that have improved the candidate experience, and the candidates perceive that they have an overall 5-star great experience (out of a 1-5 Likert scale) no matter how far in the hiring process they make it, they're more likely in 2017 to apply again for a job at the same company, refer others to the same company, and to buy stuff from that company if it's consumer-based (think retail, hospitality, airlines, etc.) 74 percent of the time. That's good news.

However, when candidates have a horrible 1-star experience overall, they're more likely to never apply again, to never refer anyone and to never buy stuff -- 46 percent of the time. That could equate to significant revenue and refer networks lost.

"Now that we're older, Kevin, it's worse, I'm telling you," he said. "We're just not talking about it. I'm in my forties and it's getting worse. I hear it from so many other people I know our age, but we're still not really talking about it."

"We need to talk about it," I said.

And I've got a decade on you, Brother, I thought. Even with unemployment being lower than it's been in over 15 years, over half of us are just not hearing back after we've applied for jobs. This reality sent me back to a time not too long ago when I was searching and searching and not hearing back.

And now I'm that many years older, and if I was in that position again (and any of us could be at any given time for any reason), it's going to be much tougher. No matter how qualified I think I am and/or actually am. I have a family and even though my wife and I work together to take care of us all, it doesn't take away the age stigma associated with being an older job candidate, especially north of 50 years old.

I remember the sick feeling of not hearing back from any possible employers, the helplessness and the shame and the frustration. Of not knowing what I was going to do next, how much savings we'd having to drain to keep a roof over our heads or keep the basic necessities on our table, of what we've have to do without in order to make it when the money ran out.

The fact is, it still really sucks to look for a new job, especially when you're older.

"Kevin, you know what I mean?" he asked, snapping me out of my forboding.

"Yes, yes I do," I said.

We finished the call and immediately I started to dig into our Talent Board Candidate Experience Awards Benchmark Research. The 2017 research report won't be published for awhile, but the same trends we've seen year after year include the following insights from this year:


  • 57 percent of management and senior management job candidates -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear back about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 6K candidates total). 
  • 57 percent of technical and non-technical experienced job candidates (at least 2+ years of experience) -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 6K candidates total).
  • 55 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear back about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 17K candidates total). 


Now, compare that with the younger generations of today:


  • 45 percent of internships, hourly, entry level job candidates, technical and non-technical experienced job candidates (at least 2+ years of experience ) -- those who are Millennials and Gen Z -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 8.5K candidates total). 
  • 45 percent of all positions -- those who are Millennials and Gen Z -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 9.5K candidates total). 


And then compare that with gender differences of today:


  • 41 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older and who are women -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 7K candidates total). 
  • 49 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older and who are men -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 9.5K candidates total). 


Never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Granted, there's a greater complexity within the hiring process when dealing with only more experienced positions and senior management, but the disparity of being older and male remains for the job seeker. That doesn't even take into account ethnicity or race, something our research doesn't cover, but there is data on this elsewhere, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Regardless, it's a business transaction, one where 99 out of 100 people who apply for any given job are not qualified enough and will not be hired, no matter the age, gender or race. Yes, it's a messy human transaction, but a business transaction nonetheless. Plus, businesses come and go, as does job growth (which has been pretty steady for a few years now), and even in boom times their are many people underemployed or those who give up their job search altogether.

Fortunately there are many companies big and small that are trying to improve their hiring process and the candidate experience for not only new hires, but for those they reject as well, with a better combination of recruiting strategy, tactics and technologies. Talent Board be celebrating dozens of these companies at the North American CandE Symposium and Awards Gala in Nashville on October 2. These companies understand the competitive advantage behind over-communicating with hires and rejected candidates, and providing and asking for feedback along the way, even before and right after they apply.

Most importantly, these companies understand giving closure to as many candidates as possible, which isn't easy to consistent do month after month and year and after year for even the most progressive of companies.

Because for those of us from any generation, with a family or not, and especially those of us who really feel qualified on some level for the jobs we apply to, it will always suck to be one of the 99 who never hears back.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Grown Men Friends and Fathers

It was the first sleepover for us. Well, kind of.

At least I framed it that way for the girls, and my youngest, Bryce, had something to say about that.

"No Daddy, it wasn't a sleepover. They didn't sleep in our room with us."

"Well, okay, but it was still a sleepover. They all slept out in the guest room last night, and before that we had pizza after going to the Boardwalk, and pancakes this morning," I said.

Beatrice chimed in. "No, Daddy, having our cousin here was the first sleepover." (Which had been the case many times already.)

I shook my head. "No, family doesn't really count when it comes to sleepovers."

"Yes, it does."

Sigh.

Yep, splitting rites-of-passage hairs here, but it still sounded fun that it could've been a maybe first sleepover. Like one with training wheels. The girls have asked more than once to have a sleepover with their friends from school, but we're not ready for the real friends-in-the-same-room-all-night-shrieking-and-laughing-without-any-sleep ones yet.

The reality was that Troy, my best friend from college, brought his three kids down to see us, all of whom are close to the age of our girls, and it had been at least two years since we had seen them all. A TKE fraternity brother, a diehard Oakland Raiders and a Rush (the band) fan as well, we've kept our friendship tethered by our witty (and silly) text banter. He's an airline pilot and always on the road, so we don't talk much and/or see each other as much as we used to -- all those college years and Rush rock concerts ago.

And like my friends from over four decades ago, Troy is also now a man of a consequential age. We've known each other for just over 30 years, and since college, damn if we haven't seen our own share of falling outs, falling downs and heartbreaks with just enough silver linings to keep us bound to one another through it all.

And to keep the levity flowing by repeating personal catch phrases that no one else in the world understands, especially our own children.

"Troy, Troy, Troy -- pick up the phone and shore up the Ders D!"

"Kev -- Mitch called. Ders will be fine dude."

Those were the more innocuous ones. There are others. There will always be others.

So after me saying the "Troy, Troy, Troy" multiple times, followed by some obscure reference, Beatrice asked me:

"Daddy, why are you making fun of your friend?"

"I'm not making fun of him, Sweetie. I love him; he's my friend. It's just something we've done for a long, long time."

And then I thought, There are stories behind the catch phrases, Sweetie. So many stories. I hope you and your sister will have lifelong friends like this. In fact, the good news is that, statistically speaking, you will. 

"Troy, Troy, Troy!" Bryce echoes and laughs.

We gave my friend and his kids hugs and sent them on their way. I hoped we'd have another sleepover sooner than later. You know, like most grown men friends and fathers do.

And we're okay with that.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Men of a Consequential Age

When we first arrived, I didn't think much about it. It bugged me a little, but I didn't speak up then, the fact that one of my best friends from four decades ago and then some, who I hadn't talked much with for the past 21 years, had gotten out of the car and greeted another mutual friend with multiple expletives.

It was again our annual trek to Chico to see another mutual best friend, one who had broken his neck during a swim meet way back in our senior year of high school. Everyone had already arrived and we were the last three to get there. I unloaded my stuff from the car and noticed Robby's neighbor standing in his yard, since I had to parking partly in front of his house, and I was sure he heard the F-bombs being dropped during the affectionate greeting.

In all fairness he wasn't the only one cursing. Every year when we get together we catch up and talk about our lives and the world around us and always make it a priority to congregate and elevate our connected spirits.

Yes, we're a lot older and supposedly more mature, having somewhat successful professional lives, and half of us having families and children of varying ages, but of course we're not too mature to completely devolve into our ranting, cursing, snorting, pig-like beings of old.

C'mon, give us a break, right? We love each other.

When you've been friends for over 40 years, there's a lot emotional crap that has transpired within our ranks. There are moments like Robby's accident that altered all our worlds dramatically, that forever bound us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship, always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

And for guys to stay friends as long as we have, even when some of us had a falling out for a time, that's something to celebrate with beer, fist bumps and F-bombs.

Now back to the latest visit -- after an hour or so I went outside to unload some more of my stuff for the weekend and in front of my friend's neighbor's house sat two little girls in front of a lemonade stand. A pretty decent one for that matter. They were both around my girls ages and they called out to me to buy a glass.

"Do you want to buy some lemonade?"

It's really hot in Chico California during the summertime, and this day was no exception. It was at least 96 degrees outside.

I walked over to the lemonade stand and said, "How much?"

One of the girls said, "Twenty-five cents."

"Wow, that's a great deal. You should be charging more."

I could see them thinking about that, and then one said, "Well, we've already made some money, and twenty-five cents is the going rate you know."

I could see about five quarters nestled neatly in the bottom of one of the plastic cups they served their pink lemonade in.

"Thank you, this is delicious," I said after taking a sip.

"You're welcome," one of the girls answered. "Thank you."

I went back to Robby's house and set the lemonade on the counter. It wasn't until the next morning I realized I hadn't finished it (it was actually really good). I also realized I needed to ask the guys to please keep it down when we were outside together in the backyard and to watch the cursing. Again, half of our group are father's with grown children as well as younger children like mine. Just like the two girls at the lemonade stand.

We are men of a consequential age, and although I have no qualms about the levity we share and the inappropriateness of some of it in the context of our pasts and the present, what we share doesn't need to spill out over the neighbor's fence to the ears of young children, especially little girls. My friends agreed, of course.

Because we're trying to be the good guys, we really are, and unfortunately today more than ever a toxic incivility abounds everywhere we go, one that has seeped into our societal ground water and continues to poison future generations. Too many hateful people think they can and should be able to do whatever they want regardless of race and/or gender and/or socio-economic status and/or political affiliation, spouting hate and untruths and running people down in the streets like what happened with the protests in Virginia, all during the weekend my friends and I spent together.

I love these guys, my friends, I really do, and we have a responsibility to our boys and girls and others younger and older to understand personal responsibility, consequence and empathy. We are men of a consequential age, and our friendship is telling of the healing bonds that can be.



Monday, August 7, 2017

When You Are the Poop

“My home is my office — to interrupt is lawless!”

—Portlandia, Working from Home


"You're okay with the girls at home while I go to this meeting?" the Mama asks, what I lovingly call my wife.

I'm busy working, so I don't respond.

"Sweetie, will it work? It's been on the family calendar for awhile now. I have to go to this meeting."

"Yes," I answer relunctantly. "I have calls, though, so the girls will have to deal."

"So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?"

This of course was a joke based on the Portlandia skit called Working from Home.

I smile. "This is my work space, sweetie," I say, moving my hands in circular motions to represent all the space around me.

And so it goes. The part where you work from home and you have kids at home and it truly is a partnership with your spouse, who actually leaves the house for work much more than you do, except when you're traveling for work. The Mama and I have figured out the balance for the most part, but it doesn't mean there isn't comedic irony at times.

Like when you teach your children to text and FaceTime on their hand-me-down devices. We only let them text and FaceTime us -- Mommy and Daddy -- and we tell them not to text or FaceTime us while we're working.

Which means that's the only time they text us. Recently during three back-to-back work calls, I was texted and FaceTimed at least 50 times. They blew up my phone and my MacBook repeatedly -- and giggled exponentially the whole time.

*sigh*

Then there's the infamous Bryce who's hungry every 20 minutes and boundaries aren't a thing. There's been more than one call or podcast I'm recording where I've had to paused because Bryce comes out to my office and says:

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

And then I say, "Sweetie, I'm on a call, so you're going to have to wait another 10 minutes."

"I don't want to wait 10 minutes. I'm hungry now!"

*sigh*

Or the many other times when:


  • Beatrice comes out to tell me Bryce has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can have a sweet snack, which she knows the answer is no. Every. Single. Time.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me Beatrice has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can text Mommy since I'm not responding to her texts.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she can't find one of her toys.
  • Beatrice comes out to tell me she can't find the TV remote.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.

Text, text, text, FaceTime...


Now, I'm not always working out in my office, since the Mama prefers I stay in the house when she's gone and I don't have an important call, but there are the times in between working when we workout in our garage home gym, and that's either a great time for the Mama and I to catch up, or for me to have some me time with my podcasts and exercise.

But then--

A little head peeks out into the garage.

"Daddy," says Bryce, "there's a little spider inside on my kitty Mittens and Beatrice and I need help getting it off and outside."

"Bryce, I'm right in the middle of my workout. Is it a big spider?"

That question is erroneous, since a spider is a spider is a spider and needs to be removed, especially if the Mama was there, which in this instance she isn't.

"Daddy, please come get the spider and put it outside so it can live and my kitty will be okay. Beatrice and I can't get it."

"But I'm right in the middle of my--"

"Daddy, please."

*sigh*

"Yes, I will get the spider for you."

I reluctantly stop peddling the recumbent bicycle and go into the house. There it is, a little spider sitting on Mittens, the white stuffed kitten. I take it outside and shake it off into the backyard. I return Mittens to Bryce.

"Thank you, Daddy," she says.

"Yes, thank you, Daddy," says Beatrice. "We just couldn't get it outside. And you know how freaked out Mommy gets with spiders."

So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?

I smile, hug both girls and go back out into the garage to finish my workout. I knew then as I know every single time I'm interrupted at home by my children is that, I'm home with my children. During the school year, during summer break, any time unless I'm traveling for work. That's where I'm fortunate  -- to be home with my children, even when they tell me "Daddy, you're always working," or when they text me "you are the poop."

Because when you are the poop, nothing else matters.







Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unapologetically Stronger

At first it was cute. Our children wanting to work out like us and with us in our garage turned gym. Headbands and wristbands and all. Timing each other to use our elliptical machine for about 10 minutes each -- although never making it to five -- and then kind of using the lightest weights to do a couple of shoulder press somethings and crazy looking bicep curls (with our supervision, of course).

However, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I don't wear headbands and wristbands while we work out, so we're not really sure where those images came from.

"Bryce, where did you get the idea to wear wristbands and headbands while working out?" I asked.

"Because we watched other people work out on the street wearing them."

"What people?"

"I don't know. People outside."

"It's probably from one of the shows they watch," the Mama said.

I nodded. "Yeah, I think there's a character on The Amazing World of Gumball that wears a headband and wristbands."

Later, I overheard the girls talking about exercising and starting their own gym.

"A long time ago girls weren't allowed to work out and get strong like boys," said Bryce.

"I'm already strong," said Beatrice.

I'm already strong. Right on, Bea. That's been resonating inside me for weeks now. And we're glad both our children, girls, have an innate sense of confidence at these early ages. Still years from tween and teenager land, we help build those callouses and muscle memory while instilling Kidpower awareness, safety skills and strength.

Because even though younger generations of women are doing things in life that previous generations only dreamed of, it still isn't easy. A recent New York Times article about why women struggle in business and attaining leadership positions highlighted:

"Women are often seen as dependable, less often as visionary. Women tend to be less comfortable with self-promotion — and more likely to be criticized when they do grab the spotlight. Men remain threatened by assertive women. Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive. Some women get discouraged and drop out along the way. And many are disproportionately penalized for stumbles."

The line that struck me the most was, "Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive."

Unapologetically competitive. A much more eloquent way of saying cutthroat, dog eat dog, nonempathic sell your mother on the street for sparkly baubles and cash competitive, abusive, sociopathic and violent as a means to an end, or just because the stronger wants to keep the "weaker" in check.

Thankfully I wasn't raised and socialized to be unapologetically competitive, which has been a blessing and a curse throughout my life, with the edge going to blessing (thank you, Mom). And yet, I'm not a women, or a women of color, and so I have no idea of what it's like to do battle with the likes of the unapologetically competitive man. Discrimination and sexual harassment continue to run rampant in Silicon Valley and the startup-investor world.

It doesn't end with business either. In a disturbing report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union titled Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians, psychological violence affects nearly 82 percent of women parliamentarians from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44 percent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term.

And more recently and closer to home, a US Representative, a man, said of another US Representative, a women, in response to a healthcare policy disagreement, "Let me tell you, somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass."

I've got a knot for your ass, congressman. Growing up in abusive family situations, perpetrated by men, I find myself completely and unapologetically unsympathetic to men who treat women this way -- in a free market economy, democracy or not -- even if they don't intend any actual physical harm.

And so I love hearing our daughters say I'm already strong, and I'd feel the same way if they were our sons and would want it no other way. In fact, we want them to be unapologetically stronger throughout life in the face of any and all adversity, without ever losing the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. That will be wondrous indeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Vapor Trails

The first time they were all gone. The second time only she was gone. And then there are all the times when I'm gone.

The first time when they were all gone it only took to day two to feel so completely alone. Alone in a house that our children grew up in. Where we persevered through boom and bust. Where we sometimes felt angry at each other but always fell in love over and over again. Where we planned to solve the worlds ills and make a difference.

The silence deafened quickly and blotted out any attempt to fill it with transitory white noise. Comforts were few, sedation only slowed the sadness and so instead I kept myself as busy as possible, sticking to routine and getting stuff done. Stuff that in aggregate maybe made a difference, or not a hill of beans.

Anything I did, I saw, I heard, I smelled, I tasted and touched reminded me of them. Anything I felt; I became like an emotive magic 8-ball, displaying the gamut from "outlook good" to "ask again later" to "very doubtful" -- happy, sad, angry, indifferent, rinse and repeat. And yet, I lived on in the light of their legacy. I lived on with their memories. I lived on with both a clear conscience and with some regretful action and inaction, which is always the contradictory vastness of in between for many of us. At some point their vapor trail faded away, but their transcendent DNA is forever present.

There I go again, bleeding out drama like I do, because they did come back and were only gone for a few days to help out a family member after some serious surgery. They being the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our two girls.

Good God, just a few days and all that spilled out from the poetter within.

It was the same thing when the Mama left again to continue the family help and the girls stayed with me. This time it was the missing of the Mama by all three of us.

And then there are times when I've had to leave and the Mama and girls miss me; it was the same thing when I left to continue with family help when my sister was gravely ill.

And again when my parents were so ill at the end of their lives.

And then there all the times I travel for work. When I'm gone for a few days at a time, sometimes a week at a time. The missing is reciprocal and palatable when we're talking on FaceTime from afar.

These are the vapor trails of loss, each one a painful signature that fades away into blue sky seemingly out of reach, only to shine forever from the darkness beyond. Whether they're gone for good or gone for a time doesn’t matter. The divine constellations of loved ones can eventually guide us to the happy each time, and until the end of our time. Because their time is all time. I miss you, Mom and Dad.

God bless those who have lost loved ones. May blue sky bathe you in their happy and that you outlive the vastness in between.